Election 2016, one week out

How to summarize?

This unprecedented election cycle stretches back as far as the Clinton Administration era, ran throughout the Obama Administration era, continues the thread that Hillary Clinton wove through both, and got entangled with the new threads of an outside the Beltway, outside politics, unlikely wild card that Donald Trump proved to be, and it all has defied the odds and conventional wisdom to land us in this strange situation of facing an election for president between two very flawed and distasteful, disrespectful, unethical and unlikable candidates.

We, the people, could have done much better. And we’re to blame for arriving at this point with these two candidates at the top of their tickets. ‘Politics are downstream of culture’ we hear often, and it’s true. We make the culture, or buy into it willingly and without giving it proper thought. So those who do the social engineering of marketing ideas and working ideologies into entertainment media and news media and politics gain ground when citizens come to accept the ‘mission creep’ of ideas spread in attractive packaging and sold through socially appealing marketing, and all sorts of changes have happened to our nation and its institutions and laws. So now the landscape is scary to a lot of people and hostile to others, or some of both to most people.

The next week has utmost importance for America and the world. I’ve been watching and covering on radio what’s most helpful for voters, and the watching world beyond, and hope to bring light to that in these days leading up to the day of decision. It’s not just the US presidency at stake, though that’s most important. The Senate and House seats in Congress are pivotal in the decisions that will continue on into the years ahead, some with ramifications for generations.

Meanwhile, an interview I did Monday on my book, for a television news webcast program, recalled the timelessness of first principles and the truths the founding documents of this nation established. Which are more or less summarized here.

“The propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained.” – George Washington…

“Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came.” – Abraham Lincoln…

We have such a rich heritage both in the Church and in our nation’s founding documents, among other historic and timeless teachings. But people, generations, will forget if they are not taught or reminded, and truths will be eradicated from our collective memory if we don’t hand down our narrative of inheritance. George Washington is widely beloved, as is Abraham Lincoln. But ask people why and they may be hard pressed to cite what these early presidents represented in their personal beliefs, lived in their personal character, and stood for in their political battles to carry out their understanding of natural law and moral order. To “get” Washington or Lincoln, you have to get them right, and in full….

People need heroes. The world needs the bright lights of those who spared nothing and braved anything to stand in the gap for their brothers and sisters anywhere who were marginalized, oppressed, mistreated, abused, and dehumanized. William Wilberforce, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa and…Fr. Richard John Neuhaus are standouts among many others inspired by them who worked tirelessly and unceasingly for human rights for every single human being who exists, and those who will in future generations. History books and museums and legendary narratives record the great heroes of history who made a difference in civilization, thankfully. We owe a debt of honor and gratitude to them all — but also the duty to carry the mantle they handed down to those who come after and are inspired by the cause of protecting, defending, and advancing human dignity and rights. Many of the benefits recognized by law that we inherit and enjoy today are the result of their life’s work.

It’s what’s at stake now. We are up to the task of making clear the truths of human dignity and human rights to our neighbors, communities, larger public and sphere of influence. We just need to call upon our courage.

After D-Day, what endures

The more time passes, the more we can appreciate the timelessness of that historic event.

Or series of events. Before it gets any further away on the calendar, I want to point out some striking memorials and they continued to come out even after June 6th, the day of the Normandy landings, the day that initiated the Western Allied effort to liberate mainland Europe from Nazi occupation during World War II.

Tributes to that day on the 70th anniversary were remarkable.

Hotair’s Ed Morrissey gave this tribute.

There is little to say or write about D-Day that hasn’t already been expressed over the past seventy years by those more eloquent than me, or especially by those who took part in the greatest invasion in human history, and for the noblest purpose. Some events challenge not just the imagination, but even language itself. Seventy years ago, the assault on the beaches of Normandy by the free men of the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and units from the countries occupied by the Nazi horror remains perhaps the most stunning act of determination and defiance in history, as 160,000 men stormed Fortress Europe and sent evil reeling — thousands of whom would die that day for freedom.

And he gives video after tortured, treasured video testifying to the raw reality of that day.

They certainly gave everything they had — so that we might live free, and not just in Europe but in America as well. Many of them gave their lives for a freedom to which they knew they might never return, but those men gave us that precious gift. May we remember them, and the men who survived and kept fighting and then returned home to build their lives and families too. We owe them a debt that can only barely be imagined, but can be repaid with constant vigilance and dedication to the cause for which they fought.

Freedom.

Ronald Reagan’s commemorative Normandy speech concludes the post, every bit of it worth experiencing.

Tod Worner did something similar here on Patheos. Something poignant and eloquent and very human.

Now, it may be argued that the horrors discovered in Europe long after D-Day exceeded anything that could have been imagined when the invasion began. But Churchill, Roosevelt, Eisenhower and men and women of the military knew the Nazi worldview: Aggression, Fanaticism, Hatred, Ruthlessness, Greed. Values antithetical to human dignity and freedom. The Nazi creed taken to its extreme, yet logical, end would lead to the concentration camp. And it needed to be stopped.

So 70 years after D-Day…what have we learned? Were there doubts? Absolutely. Trepidation and uncertainty coursed through every individual from the grunt to the generals. Was there a duty recognized by leaders and soldiers alike to liberate the European peoples? Unquestionably. And what was the outcome?

Deliverance. Sweet deliverance at a very high price.

Doubt. Duty. Deliverance. To all veterans who have paid or been willing to pay that price, humbly, sincerely and endlessly…thank you.

For those who fully appreciate the cost and for those who never knew the price paid, The Atlantic provided a stunning visual montage, each photo worth time spent lingering.

How many countless people and nations are grateful for those who took some part, any part, in this historic and timeless event in the battle for human freedom.

The French still are, notes John Fund at NRO.

“We love you! Thank you for all you did!” 15-year-old Audrey Rigaud said with tears in her eyes as she embraced Bob Bedford, a 90-year-old veteran of D-Day, outside the banquet this small French town held in honor of their country’s liberation from Nazi occupation. The difference in their ages may have been three quarters of a century and their cultures a continent apart, but the message was clear: A surprising number of French haven’t forgotten America’s role in “the liberation.”

Audrey had come to Normandy all the way from Marseille — 700 miles away — with her classmates to commemorate D-Day for a school project. “Our feelings are so full, we want to make sure no one forgets the liberation,” Olivia Diddi, a fellow student of Audrey’s, told me. For his part, Bedford was overwhelmed by the reception he’s gotten. “It’s the first time I’ve been back since 1944,” the former Navy lieutenant told me. “If I’d only known how they felt.”

Fund was there, to capture this commemoration.

I heard a lot of things in Normandy this week that might sound trite or simplistic to someone who has never been in battle. But you quickly realize that the reason some truths are eternal and valuable is precisely because they can have such great meaning to people. Europe was occupied by a terrible tyranny and its people were slowly starving as the war ground on. America, Britain, Canada, and other countries that sent their young men and women overseas to take back Europe did a noble and courageous thing. It’s refreshing to learn that so many people in Europe who weren’t alive to witness the joy of liberation still do so much to commemorate it…

The message I take away from the windswept beaches of Normandy is that there are times when tyranny must be opposed with every fiber of our being — and that service comes in many forms, some dangerous and some just a matter of doing what even the weakest among us can. And finally, that even though it can’t be expected or wished for, the gratitude of people toward those who fought against tyranny can be long-lasting indeed. I learned that here in Normandy.

There’s a message flickering in some of these statements and memories and reports of commemorations. It’s a message that service is there today for all of us to take up and act on, and even if it seems mundane or simple, it is there in front of us to do. So that in our own way, we hold off modern day forces of tyranny against the weak and vulnerable and dependent, anywhere we encounter such threats. For the long-lasting effect such service may have.

Have we lost our ability to disagree?

We have devolved.

That’s not news, except to those people who haven’t been paying attention. How long ago did we actually exercise our right to disagree with facility and reason, in this representative republic, this exercise in democracy? And especially, with dignity?

Voltaire allegedly said “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Though he did not, his biographer did. But it’s a noble sentiment.

So about the concept and reality of dignity, let’s look at what’s happened lately in the cultural meltdown over social moral issues, or anything that even refers to the word ‘moral.’ Fires ignite. Flamethrowers start lighting their torches. That’s bad enough. But one of the disturbing things among many, is that we’ve lost the meaning of words in the first place, so what’s moral isn’t sometimes what’s legal, and vice versa. Which leads inevitably to the throwdown challenge, who decides.

As if there’s no reference point. As if it’s a matter of consensus maybe? Because that’s what drives our culture.

Just as the Little Sisters of the Poor lawsuit put the spotlight on government encroachment on religious liberty, the meltdown that put white hot light on the decline of our civilization is the whole Brendan Eich/Mozilla affair over the issue of gay marriage. This need not have happened this way.

So, what happened?

A rundown:

First Things ran this, under ‘Anonymous’, such is the atmosphere of fear of retribution these days.

Silicon Valley is in an uproar. Angry blog posts have been written, resignations tendered, and boycotts organized, with no sign that the furor is likely to abate. Seeing such ruckus, a casual observer might assume that some fallout had finally resulted from the shocking revelation that several of the largest names in the technology industry—including Google, Apple, Intel, and others—have secretly colluded to drive down wages among software engineers and executives for the better part of the past decade. In fact it concerns nothing of the sort, but rather the appointment of a man named Brendan Eich to the role of CEO of the Mozilla Corporation, makers of the popular Firefox web browser.

The one thing all sides can agree on is that Eich, on paper, is very well suited to the job. His most notable technical achievement is the invention of the Javascript programming language, and while some of us might sniff at the poor design decisions which made that language notoriously unpleasant to work with, it is incontestable that it forms the underpinnings of much of the modern web. Indeed, a great deal of the complexity in a modern web browser is devoted to interpreting JavaScript as quickly and correctly as possible, and a staggering amount of work has gone into finding ever more baroque methods of optimizing its execution. Eich himself is quite familiar with all of this labor, having served in senior technical roles at Mozilla since he co-founded it. In fact, he has worked there almost continuously for the past sixteen years—an aeon in Silicon Valley—and is widely-known and liked within the company, the non-profit foundation that controls it, and the broader community of programmers around it.

Why, then, the ruckus? Amazingly enough, it is entirely due to the fact that Eich made a $1,000 donation to the campaign urging a ‘yes’ vote on California’s Proposition 8. When this fact first came to light, Eich, who was then CTO of Mozilla, published a post on his personal blog stating that his donation was not motivated by any sort of animosity towards gays or lesbians, and challenging those who did not believe this to cite any “incident where I displayed hatred, or ever treated someone less than respectfully because of group affinity or individual identity.”

That is honesty. He’s saying, basically, ‘everyone has an opinion, a belief, and this is mine. By holding this belief I have in no way dishonored any person, or treated them disrespectfully.’

Then he reached out further.

Upon being named CEO last Wednesday, Eich immediately put up another post which among other things pledged in direct terms first that he would ensure Mozilla continued offering health benefits to the same-sex partners of its employees; second that he would allocate additional resources to a project that aims to bring more LGBTQ individuals into the technology world and Mozilla in particular; and third that he would maintain and strengthen Mozilla’s policies against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. It’s worth emphasizing that Eich made this statement prior to the storm of outrage which has since erupted, and that with these policies and others Mozilla easily ranks among the most gay-friendly work environments in the United States.

Emphasis added there, because that’s a remarkable effort to show goodwill. It wasn’t made in response to outrage, but in advance of it. How many work environments have that policy in the US? Or anywhere?

None of this, however, would do him any good. Since then, the Internet has exploded with statements expressing horror, sadness, and anger at Eich’s appointment. Two board members of the Mozilla foundation have resigned, ostensibly because they felt the search committee was unduly weighted with insiders, and dozens of more junior employees and volunteers have left as well. Several major corporations have released official statements encouraging Eich’s resignation, though it is difficult to tell whether they are motivated by genuine moral outrage or by the potential for cheap publicity. Of course the tech media, preternaturally hungry for pageclicks, cannot get enough of the story.

One of the most widely-shared and lauded of the countless statements issued in response to the appointment was written by Owen Thomas, managing editor of Valleywag, a self-described “tech gossip rag.” This is such a remarkable document that I can’t help quoting from it extensively:

Go there and read it if you will. This post is long enough already.

Andrew Sullivan responded to the torching of Brendan Eich with his own horror.

The guy who had the gall to express his First Amendment rights and favor Prop 8 in California by donating $1,000 has just been scalped by some gay activists. After an OKCupid decision to boycott Mozilla, the recently appointed Brendan Eich just resigned under pressure:

‘In a post at Mozilla’s official blog, executive chairwoman Mitchell Baker confirmed the news with an unequivocal apology on the company’s behalf. “Mozilla prides itself on being held to a different standard and, this past week, we didn’t live up to it,” Baker wrote. “We didn’t act like you’d expect Mozilla to act. We didn’t move fast enough to engage with people once the controversy started. We’re sorry. We must do better.”

‘The action comes days after dating site OKCupid became the most vocal opponent of Eich’s hiring. Mozilla offered repeated statements about LGBT inclusivity within the company over the past two weeks, but those never came with a specific response from Eich about his thousands of dollars of donations in support of Proposition 8, a California ballot measure that sought to ban gay marriage in the state.’

End of statement. To which Sullivan responds:

Will he now be forced to walk through the streets in shame? Why not the stocks? The whole episode disgusts me – as it should disgust anyone interested in a tolerant and diverse society. If this is the gay rights movement today – hounding our opponents with a fanaticism more like the religious right than anyone else – then count me out. If we are about intimidating the free speech of others, we are no better than the anti-gay bullies who came before us.

Thank you, Andrew Sullivan. That is intellectual honesty. You made my point. Those who rightly expressed outrage at being bullied are now bullying others. Simply because they can. Which makes them just like their former opponents, certainly no better.

Joel Kotkin says it’s The spread of ‘debate is over’ syndrome.

In many cases, I might agree with some leftist views, say, on gay marriage or the critical nature of income inequality, but liberals should find these intolerant tendencies terrifying and dangerous in a democracy dependent on the free interchange of ideas.

There’s the key to understanding or at least beginning to see what’s going on here. There is no free interchange of ideas. Some ideas are not only vilified, but crushed to the point where those who hold them must be professionally ruined or destroyed.

This shift has been building for decades and follows the increasingly uniform capture of key institutions – universities, the mass media and the bureaucracy – by people holding a set of “acceptable” viewpoints. Ironically, the shift toward a uniform worldview started in the 1960s, in part as a reaction to the excesses of Sen. Joseph McCarthy and the oppressive conformity of the 1950s.

But what started as liberation and openness has now engendered an ever-more powerful clerisy – an educated class – that seeks to impose particular viewpoints while marginalizing and, in the most-extreme cases, criminalizing, divergent views.

Harsh words maybe, but well stated certainly.

Mollie Hemingway wrote this exceptional, challenging commentary and analysis.

Libertarian Nick Gillespie said he was “ambivalent” about Eich’s removal but that Eich’s resignation simply “shows how businesses respond to market signals.” And even conservatives weren’t rallying behind Eich on the grounds that marriage is an institution designed around sexual complementarity so much as by saying that even if he’s wrong, conscience should be protected.

At the end of the day, they’re all wrong. Or at least not even close to understanding the problem with Eich’s firing. Political differences with CEOs, even deep political differences, are something adults handle all the time. Most of us know that what happened held much more significance than anodyne market forces having their way. And Eich shouldn’t be protected on the grounds that one has the right to be wrong. See, Eich wasn’t hounded out of corporate life because he was wrong. He was hounded out of corporate life because he was right. His message strikes at the root of a popular but deeply flawed ideology that can not tolerate dissent.

And what we have in Eich is the powerful story of a dissident — one that forces those of us who are still capable of it to pause and think deeply on changing marriage laws and a free society.

Now Mollie gets into territory that rivets my attention, the work and writings of Vaclav Havel…

…the Czech playwright, poet, dissident and eventual president. Havel, who died in 2011, was a great man of freedom, if somewhat idiosyncratic in his political views. He was a fierce anti-communist who was also wary of consumerism, a long-time supporter of the Green Party who favored state action against global warming, and a skeptic of ideology who supported civil unions for same-sex couples.

“The Power of the Powerless,” written under a communist regime in 1978, is his landmark essay about dissent. It’s a wonderful read, no matter your political persuasion. It asks everyone to look at how they contribute to totalitarian systems, with no exceptions. It specifically says its message is “a kind of warning to the West,” revealing our own latent tendencies to set aside our moral integrity. Reading it again after the Eich dismissal, I couldn’t help but think of how it applies to our current situation in the States.

“The post-totalitarian system demands conformity, uniformity, and discipline,” Havel wrote, using the term he preferred over “dictatorship” for the complex system of social control experienced in Czechoslovakia. We also have a system that is demanding conformity, uniformity and discipline — it’s not just about marriage law, to be honest. It’s really about something much bigger — crushing the belief that the sexes are distinct in deep and meaningful ways that contribute to human flourishing. Obviously marriage law plays a role here — recent court rulings have asserted that the sexes are interchangeable when it comes to marriage. That’s only possible if they’re not distinct in deep and meaningful ways. But the push to change marriage laws is just one part of a larger project to change our understanding of sexual distinctions.

This commentary is just about the best analysis of the critical issues at hand out there right now. It should be engaged. The cultural battles have devolved into incoherence.

OK, let’s step back. What does any of this have to do with views on marriage? Well, I know that we’ve had years of criminally one-sided media coverage, cowardly political leaders and elite cultural views that have conveyed to you that the only reason anyone might think sexual complementarity is key to marriage is bigotry. You may have even internalized this message. You may need to hold on to this belief for reasons of tribalism or pride. But in the spirit of Jon Stewart’s poster shown up at the top, which reads, “I may disagree with you but I’m pretty sure you’re not Hitler,” let’s go on an open-minded journey where we seek to understand the views of others without characterizing them as Hitler-like. It’s difficult in these times, but we can do it.

She leads the reader through this dialectic journey.

So what is the difference between marriage and other relationships? There’s no question marriage has been treated dramatically differently than other relationships by governments and society. Why? Is it that it features a more vibrant or emotional connection? Or is there some feature that is a difference in kind – that marks it out as something that ought to be socially structured? We usually don’t want government in our other relationships, right? So why is marriage singled out throughout all time and human history as a different type of recognized relationship?

Well, read her article for the whole critical thinking exercise.

This is what marriage law was about. Not two friends building a house together. Or two people doing other sexual activities together. It was about the sexual union of men and women and a refusal to lie about what that union and that union alone produces: the propagation of humanity. This is the only way to make sense of marriage laws throughout all time and human history. Believing in this truth is not something that is wrong, and should be a firing offense. It’s not something that’s wrong, but should be protected speech. It’s actually something that’s right. It’s right regardless of how many people say otherwise. If you doubt the truth of this reality, consider your own existence, which we know is due to one man and one woman getting together. Consider the significance of what this means for all of humanity, that we all share this.

Now if one wants to change marriage laws to reflect something else, that’s obviously something that one can aim to do. We’ve seen the rapid, frequently unthinking embrace of that change in recent years, described one year ago in the humanist and libertarian magazine Spiked as “a case study in conformism” that should terrify “anyone who values diversity of thought and tolerance of dissent.”

Hang in there, even if you’re emotionally charged at this point. Because this appeals to reason and not emotion.

What is marriage? That’s a good question to answer, particularly if you want to radically alter the one limiting factor that is present throughout all history. Once we get an answer for what this new marriage definition is, perhaps our media and other elites could spend some time thinking about the consequences of that change. Does it in any way affect the right of children to be raised by their own mother and father? Have we forgotten why that’s an important norm? Either way, does it change the likelihood that children will be raised by their own mother and father? Does it by definition make that an impossibility for whatever children are raised by same-sex couples? Do we no longer believe that children should be raised by their own mother and father? Did we forget to think about children in this debate, pretending that it’s only about adults? In any case, is this something that doesn’t matter if males and females are interchangeable? Is it really true that there are no significant differences between mothers and fathers? Really? Are we sure we need to accept that lie? Are we sure we want to?

We are, she posits, slipping under ‘mob rule.’ But still at a warning point.

There’s much to be thankful for in aftermath of the madness of the Eich termination. For one thing, many people have rightly figured out that what happened there is terrifying. It’s not just natural marriage advocates but even some of same-sex marriage supporters most vocal advocates.

Such as the aforementioned and quoted Andrew Sullivan.

Far more than the political folks on either side, though, is the importance of what happened to the apolitical. In one sense, the most frightening aspect of the Eich termination was the message it sent to people throughout the country: Shut up or you will lose your livelihood. But in another sense, this dissident moment may spark something previously thought impossible.

Havel says that party politics and the law are the weakest grounds on which to fight against group think. Instead, he says that the real place for dissidents to fight for freedom is in the space where the complex demands of the system affect the ability to live life in a bearable way — to not be fired for one’s views, for instance. “People who live in the post-totalitarian system know only too well that the question of whether one or several political parties are in power, and how these parties define and label themselves, is of far less importance than the question of whether or not it is possible to live like a human being,” Havel said.

Exactly. Authentically.

It’s in this sense that Eich’s most important political work was not making a paltry $1,000 donation in defense of natural marriage laws. It was in refusing to recant.

Consider first the response of one of the activist’s calling for Eich’s head. After he resigned, activist Michael Catlin wrote that he never thought his campaign against Eich would go “this far” and that he wanted “him to just apologize.” So he was “sad” that Eich didn’t say the magic words that would have allowed him to keep his job. Yeah, he really said that.

And then think about how horrified people were that Eich lost his job for his views that men and women are different in important ways. Regardless of our previous views on marriage, we saw in Eich a dissident who forced us to think about totalitarianism and our role in making society unfree. Did we mindlessly put up red equal signs when we hadn’t even thought about what marriage is? Did we rush to fit in by telling others we supported same-sex marriage? Did we even go so far as to characterize as “bigots” or as “Hitlers” those who held views about the importance of natural marriage?

We must be able to engage these ideas, consider these questions, debate them and disagree, to hold onto and preserve our dignity and civilized society.

Whether Eich and other dissidents will crack our thick, hardened crust remains to be seen. Perhaps there will need to be dozens, hundreds, thousands more dissidents losing their livelihoods, facing court cases, and dealing with social media rage mobs. But all of a sudden, the crust doesn’t seem nearly as impenetrable as it did last week.

Pope Francis provokes in Evangelii Gaudium

He’s done it again. Comforted the afflicted and afflicted the comfortable.

The Pope intended his first Apostolic Exhortation to be clarifying. Reactions to it have been revealing. At least people are paying attention, which they’ve been doing since he was elected. But they’re not paying as much attention to the full content of his messages, much less its context. And both are important.

Francis has a way of jabbing everyone, dropping zingers in his daily homilies and the many addresses he’s given over the past nine months. So it’s interesting to see who is uncomfortable with which particular parts of his messages. His exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, The Joy of the Gospel, is loaded with zingers. Loaded. Every paragraph calls for its own blog post. At least that. It will take time to unpack.

But the media jumped on it for one point, and they even got that one wrong in their zeal to spin a papal admonition on economics (where was all this concern for the poor over the years of international market meltdowns and monetizing debt schemes?).

This Guardian piece serves as an example of many others like it, because they all said basically the same thing.

Pope Francis has attacked unfettered capitalism as “a new tyranny”, urging global leaders to fight poverty and growing inequality in the first major work he has authored alone as pontiff.

The 84-page document, known as an apostolic exhortation, amounted to an official platform for his papacy, building on views he has aired in sermons and remarks since he became the first non-European pontiff in 1,300 years in March.

In it, Francis went further than previous comments criticising the global economic system, attacking the “idolatry of money” and beseeching politicians to guarantee all citizens “dignified work, education and healthcare”.

He also called on rich people to share their wealth. “Just as the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills,” Francis wrote in the document issued on Tuesday.

What to say? Where to begin?

As the Guardian acknowledges (in passing), Francis has been saying these things in his “sermons and remarks” since he became pope. Those of us who follow his lively, engaging, colorful and compelling homilies, addresses and off-the-cuff remarks regularly have seen the themes repeated time and again, right down to the exact phrases, nailing ‘the throwaway culture’ for its ‘idolatry’ and ‘conspiracies of materialism’ and the ‘globalization of indifference’. Where were the headlines on those messages?

And notice that the reference to the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” that “sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life” is just the preface for the larger message of ‘an economy of exclusion and inequality, an economy that kills.’ How many hours and pages of media could be spent on the literal value of human life and the commandment not to kill, without using it as a setup for an economic message? Talk about a ‘throwaway’ culture and…to borrow from Pope Benedict…’the culture of relativism.’

Which gets to the point that there’s utter continuity from the last pope to this, continuity in fact from the Second Vatican Council and Paul VI through John Paul II through Benedict XVI to Francis. Nothing has changed but the style and tone and personal character of the man who sits in the chair of Peter and walks in his shoes, though this pope is carrying out shoe leather Catholicism in his old, worn black ones instead of a new pair from Italian shoemakers made for the honor of the new office.

Francis doesn’t have time or inclination for that. He senses and expresses the urgency of the moment in this exhortation. On my radio program Monday I had the opportunity to discuss it with Fr. Robert Barron, who knows the message and messenger better than most Catholics and as well as any clergy. He said “this is about urgency,” just as a family with a house on fire has to put everything else aside to make putting out the fire their first priority, or a nation has to come together and move beyond petty political differences to stand unified against attacks or invasion. That is what the pope’s exhortation is about, said Barron.

The  ‘Joy of the Gospel’ has always, since the time of the Apostles to this day, been about the truth of humanity, of human rights, equality and justice he said. “What do we lead with? Not doctrine, not moral teaching, that’s all part of the larger message. But we lead with what we stand for, human dignity, life, love.”

The degree to which Francis startles is the degree to which these truths have been watered down or muted or lost. How that happened is part of the depth and breadth of this Apostolic Exhortation. What to do about it is its urgency, to encounter a world troubled and hurting and lost on the peripheries.

Which gets back to the fact that Francis is startling at all, when he’s only reiterating the message of the Gospel and the social teaching that follows. The New York Post editors get it, as they show in this editorial.

Context is important. At the heart of the pope’s concern is that in too many places today, the dignity of the human being is under siege. He scores the “feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures” for blunting our consciences. And he worries that money has become a new god.

Like the pope, we see many inequities around the world robbing people of their dignity and preventing them from sharing in the fruits of global prosperity. It is also true that in some places this includes dehumanizing practices that reduce men and women to cogs. We would only point out that in the parts of the earth where people are suffering most from these trends, it is not so much the free market as a rigged market that is to blame.

Many headlines sum up the pope’s letter as a critique of “unfettered” capitalism, and it’s certainly true that Pope Francis believes our financial world needs re-ordering. In reality, of course, unfettered capitalism doesn’t exist. But the places where it comes closest — say, Hong Kong — provide much more real opportunity and dignity for the poor than places where markets are greatly limited.

In truth, the pope’s real enemy is crony capitalism, which he has had long experience with because it dominates his native Latin America. This is a capitalism that insulates the rich and powerful from competition at home and abroad. Under crony capitalism, the poor pay more because they are denied access to better-priced goods and services from abroad; and they have fewer opportunities to use their talents and enterprise to better their conditions. And it is highly corrupting.

We fully share the pope’s concern about an “economy of exclusion and inequality.”

It’s one that is now growing in the U.S., surprising as that may be to many people. So now that the consciousness of big media has been roused by this pope’s call to urgent action, hopefully they’ll stay on message and follow where it leads.

Father’s importance

He’s supposed to be the rock, the head of the family, the protector, in the right order of things.

But classic family identity roles are under tremendous cultural pressure and social commentators won’t dare talk in those terms anymore. That doesn’t change the truth.

My father passed away last week and the impact of that loss is huge and clarifying. He was elderly and broken and diminished by late stage Parkinson’s, but still dignified and honorable. Even in his most broken and vulnerable years, when those qualities were less obvious, he was always who he was, and that was dignified and honorable, deep within. He embodied values up for cultural debate these days, so his life is instructive.

Some brief background…

Children aren’t born with biases, they are learned. I didn’t learn them and so when my first trip out of the Midwest as a child was to the deep south with my father, I was mortified to see the reality of segregation. My father always told the story of when we were in a drugstore and I saw a sign at a water fountain designating (in cruder terms) that it was for whites only. He said I shouted ‘Dad!’ (as if he was the only one who could hear me since he was the one I was imploring). ‘Dad, they can’t treat people that way! Do something!’ I was a little human rights activist.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was one of my heroes and even as a youngster I followed his marches and speeches. When my high school introduced the first African American studies class, I was the first one to sign up. We read the ‘Autobiography of Malcolm X’ and discussed it, and I listened and learned more than I spoke.

We aren’t listening anymore (maybe some people never did). We’re certainly blurting quickly and often, in a knee-jerk reaction. Some people never have an unuttered thought, facilitated by the Internet and all the means of social networking. Dialogue and exchange is good, attacks are not. Attacks are happening often. Indefensible assaults are happening often. We’re lashing out at ‘the other’, as Pope Francis refers to the classes of people who make us ‘uncomfortable.’  People are so ready to impugn reputations, question motives, doubt intellect or integrity when someone expresses a thought or shares information that is even perceived as running counter to what they believe. At what cost? Pride? Ego? A perceived ‘gotcha’ moment?

Pope Francis has been getting at this from the beginning of his papacy, every time he talks about being ‘self-referential’, needing to get outside ourselves.

Author and blogger Elizabeth Scalia was my guest for a very engaging hour of reflection on all this because her book Strange Gods: Unmasking the Idols in Everyday Life became a more powerful indictment than even she imagined it would when it was published and Pope Francis was soon after elected to the papacy and began talking about idolatry and making idols of ourselves and our beliefs. Both of us being bloggers, both being women in media who try to bring the core truths of right and wrong, human dignity and right order in the world into our work, always seeking to understand it and do it better, we had a lot to talk about. And realized, together, that the gut-check for false idols has become a daily necessity.

It’s humbling to go searching for where the truth may lie, even if it’s beyond what we may have thought or believed. But refreshingly challenging and freeing. My father was very instrumental in that quest, that burning desire to search for truth and engage.

Long before I ever heard the terms ‘Catholic social teaching’ or ‘social justice’, I learned them from my father who fed the poor and hungry, brought comfort to the afflicted, gave work and purpose and dignity to the impaired. I was his ‘little sidekick’ on these missions, and it bred an adult who seeks constantly to be a peacemaker, a unifier, a bridgebuilder, a caretaker. Without compromising the truth of human dignity at the core of the mission.

Just hours after learning of my father’s passing, I had an important speaking engagement as the keynote speaker and panel moderator at a medical professionals event. I kept it in honor of my father, and the dignity our family and his healthcare providers showed him throughout his final years of life. Everyone has that dignity, and everyone deserves for it to be recognized and honored.

At his poignant funeral Mass, the Beatitudes spoke eloquently of his life. While we’re all fussing and sniping over the politics of healthcare law and political scandals and state elections and partisanship and hot-button social issues, my father’s funeral Mass helped me re-set the importance of life lived in service to others, with faith as the moral compass.

I chose the prayer for the program that seemed to suit his life purpose the best, the one commonly attributed to St. Francis.

Peace Prayer

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury,pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Amen. Thank you, Dad, for your witness to human dignity and the care of the feeble, impaired, disabled, elderly, suffering, lonely, despairing and forgotten. They will always have a champion in you, and your legacy.

The latest breaking Pope Francis story

The media didn’t catch Francis’s latest. They’re too busy recycling their first round of misreporting on him.

One glance at the front page, top of the fold headline on my hometown newspaper Friday morning told me that much. Though it’s morphed into different versions online, my Chicago Tribune carried a banner photo and headline under it blaring ‘Pope faults ‘small-minded rules’, with the sub-head ‘He says church shouldn’t be ‘obsessed’ with gays, abortion, contraception.’

Really?‘ I thought. ‘They’re still churning that out?‘ This was embarrassing. Because as a longtime journalist in a once-honorable profession, I knew they were being lazy and sloppy, most of the media, from the time the Francis interview came out. They’re all mostly reading each other and recycling the same words and headlines. All of which reveals a gaping void of direct knowledge of what Francis said in the interview that grabbed so much attention yesterday, and intellectual ability to analyze it from a base of knowledge required to report well on the topic at hand.

The Pope’s Friday address in Rome to a gathering of Catholic physicians got precious little coverage, except from Vatican news sources and good Catholic journalists and bloggers.

NRO’s Kathryn Lopez.

Pope Francis – the guy who supposedly wants everyone to hush up already about abortion and other contentious, intimate issues – met with Catholic doctors gathering in Rome for a conference on maternal health today.

He talked about the paradox doctors face today, welcoming progress while making sure it is always in service of human dignity. “If you lose the personal and social sensitivity towards the acceptance of a new life, then other forms of acceptance that are valuable for society also wither away,” he said. He observed that the acceptance of life strengthens moral fiber, before adding that the final objective of the doctor is always the defense and promotion of life.

“The first right of the human person is his life,” he said. Not for the first time, he talked about a throwaway culture, one that dismisses, doesn’t see, or seeks to eliminate those who are physically or socially weaker. According to Vatican Radio, “The Pope stressed that every child that is not born, but unjustly condemned to be aborted and every elderly person who is sick or at the end of his life bears the face of Christ.”

HotAir.com’s Ed Morrissey.

After watching the media demonstrate their lack of comprehension of the Catholic Church yet again this week, the LifeNews update on Pope Francis might still come as a shock to some journalists:

A day after an interview the mainstream media used to claim Pope Francis is backing down on the Catholic Church’s pro-life teachings, the Pope condemned abortion in strong terms, saying unborn babies are “unjustly condemned” when killed in abortions.

In the text of a message the Pope delivered to a group of Catholic doctors this morning, as distributed by the Vatican today, Pope Francis soundly condemned abortion.

“Every unborn child, though unjustly condemned to be aborted, has the face of the Lord, who even before his birth, and then as soon as he was born, experienced the rejection of the world,” he said.

Pope Francis condemned the “throwaway culture” abortion promotes, saying, “Our response to this mentality is a ‘yes’ to life, decisive and without hesitation. ‘The first right of the human person is his life. He has other goods and some are precious, but this one is fundamental –- the condition for all the others’”.
None of this is new. And in fact, none of what Pope Francis said in his lengthy interview this week is new, either, not for anyone who reads the catechism of the Catholic Church and understands the pontiff’s emphasis on evangelization. Unfortunately, that leaves out a vast majority of the secular media…

Morrissey points to Vatican expert George Weigel’s take on all this, which we need to hear and consider well.

He points out that Francis himself reiterated that the Catholic Church teachings on the modern ills of society are clear, but can only be healed by bringing people face to face with Christ first, rather than “rules” — and that this approach has been clearly stated since Vatican II:

“And how are the wounds of late-modern and postmodern humanity to be healed? Through an encounter with Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God. “The most important thing, “ Francis insisted in his interview, “is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you.” The Church of the 21st century must offer Jesus Christ as the answer to the question that is every human life (as John Paul II liked to put it). The moral law is important, and there should be no doubt that Francis believes and professes all that the Catholic Church believes and professes to be true about the moral life, the life that leads to happiness and beatitude. But he also understands that men and women are far more likely to embrace those moral truths — about the inalienable right to life from conception until natural death; about human sexuality and how it should be lived — when they have first embraced Jesus Christ as Lord. That, it seems to me, is what the pope was saying when he told Antonio Spadaro that “proclamation in a missionary style focuses on the essentials, on the necessary things.” These are what make “the heart burn: as it did for the disciples at Emmaus. . . . The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant. It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow.”

This is the understanding Francis requires to ‘get’ what the ‘simple, humble, accessible’ Jesuit Pope is saying. Big, elite, powerful media and special interest groups certainly didn’t.

Frank Weathers caught that, neatly, in this Patheos post. It needs to be read, not excerpted, right from the graphic illustrating the abortion movement’s celebration of Pope Francis’ remarks just a day ago, contrasted by the remarks none of them noticed he made the next day. The comparison of his remarks on the issues the media are obsessing on with those of his predecessor, on the same issues. In a word, it is exquisite .

Read it. All. It forms a composite of Christ centered philosophy for a culture largely in denial of philosophy, religion, the transcendent, and therefore the presence or importance of Christ. We can probably agree that reform is necessary. But meanwhile, it appears there’s a revolution afoot.

Dr. King’s persistent message

On the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous ‘I Have A Dream’ speech, coverage is all over the media and snips from the speech are being played and printed. But only selective snips.

Americans haven’t been seeing or hearing his fuller message. There’s no question the civil rights movement the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led made historic and lasting gains in this country’s laws, politics and social fabric. He dedicated his life’s work to that, always grounding those soaring speeches and addresses in the Gospel, weaving scripture throughout his messages and referring nearly always to the Almighty, on behalf of “all God’s children.”

But some of the very people today who stand on the shoulders of the great civil rights leader and who claim his legacy gave them that opportunity, cite only portions of the Rev. Dr. King’s speeches and apply them strategically and even politically in ways he may not appreciate if he were here today.

But his niece Alveda King is here and was with me on radio with her unique insight into the fullness of Dr. Martin’s message and intentions. Which she said were all about ‘finding a more excellent way.’ Some of what she told me she had already shared here.

…Martin Luther King, Jr., my Uncle M. L. took a lot of time praying, seeking the Lord, inquiring of the Lord. So as we continue to follow his pattern for the rest of this week, for the rest of this year, for the rest of our lives – if we can only begin to realize that we’re not separate races – we are one human race in need of the love of God – and believe that truth will set us free – together we can overcome in Christ.

Therefore, I can understand why my uncle, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said, “We must learn to live together as brothers [and I add sisters] or parish together as fools.”

And so, for those of us who believe the Bible, who trust God, who have been very sinful and are now repentant, we know that we need God. We know that we need to be forgiven and healed. We know that we cannot be intolerant of other. That we must seek transformation, not just tolerance, not compromise but transformation.

Archbishop Joseph Kurtz said the same thing, movingly, in talking about Dr. King’s legacy and the modern movement for human rights and dignity. He was the Catholic bishops’ representative at a Christian symposium in Alabama earlier this year commemorating Dr. King’s ‘Letter From Birmingham Jail.’ His remarks then applied today, so we discussed them again today.

This letter, which is rich in foundations of scripture and human philosophy, direct, and prophetic, gave a rationale for strong action as well as marching orders for the steps we must follow to lift us, as the letter states, “from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.” Rightly, he uncovered the words of St. Thomas Aquinas that the unjust law is “the human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law” and so is, as Dr. King says, “out of harmony with the moral law.”

Archbishop Kurtz talked about the consequences of losing the sense and awareness of the natural law written on the heart, and we’re certainly facing the signs of that in the culture, law, politics, everywhere.

But it’s important, he added, to recognize the gains and the good and acknowledge them.

Thus today, we must ask forgiveness for past wrongs, be grateful for words that have already borne fruit, and be resolved for more action…

Listen again to the final words of Rev. King’s fifty-year-old letter: “Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear-drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.”

We hear and heed these words with great hope, and we pray “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love. Where there is injury, pardon. Where there is doubt, faith. Where there is despair, hope. Where there is darkness, light. Where is sadness, joy … For it is in giving that we receive. It is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.”

And as Dr. Michael Coulter points out, we need to hear the words of Dr. King’s famous speech later that same year, commemorated this Wednesday, lesser known words from ‘I Have A Dream’.

In the third paragraph of King’s text, he says that “when the architects of our Great Republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.”…

A “promissory note” is not one of those terms we use frequently, but it’s a powerful term. It’s not a hope or a wish. In fact, there was an international agreement in 1930 which defined a promissory note as implying an unconditional promise. For King, the Declaration of Independence, which he quoted directly from, was a promissory note that the United States would ultimately guarantee for all people “the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” As King then said, “It is obvious that America has defaulted on this promissory note.” King was not calling for the destruction of the American political order, but rather for us to be true to the ideals of the founding, and that’s why it is important that he quoted the Declaration.

So few commentators note this, or know this. But it’s important to know and talk about.

Finally, at the end of King’s speech is a beautiful sequence where he presents images of a truly post-racial society—and there again is one more reference to the Declaration of Independence. As he begins this “dream” section, he says: “I still have a dream. It is deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up, live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

King’s hopes were rooted in that powerful second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence that claims that no man by nature is ruler or the servant of another. It’s not just a great statement during a social struggle, it’s a great statement about what it means to be an American.

And one hoping to reveal and struggling to defend self-evident truths about the dignity of “all God’s children”, no exceptions.

House votes to ban late term abortion

The horrors revealed in the trial of notorious abortionist Kermit Gosnell shook even pro-choice citizens and it won’t be the same again for the abortion movement. Which is probably why a bill to ban late term abortion made it to a floor vote in the House of Representatives this week, and the rhetoric about it got so dramatic.

Some people want to live in denial, in the land of make believe where language can be manipulated to mean whatever you want it to, especially as you intend it to stir people to sentiments sympathetic to your goals. Never mind what those goals actually are, and mean, and especially cause.

Thus, ahead of the vote, President Obama spoke out to threaten its veto if it passed.

In a Statement of Administration Policy, the president called the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act” (H.R. 1797) “an assault on a woman’s right to choose” and said it shows “contempt for…the Constitution.”

Well that’s interesting. Examine just that one line. You couldn’t get more explicit in naming a bill exactly what it covers, first of all. It’s a bill to ban abortion procedures that kill unborn children by the most torturous methods, so they first suffer before they die. The bills sponsors and supporters want to protect these children. Period.

Continuing on…For the president to call it an “assault on a women’s right to choose” is just more of the same shell-game language engineering to manipulate public opinion. It assaults sensibilities over the long-misused word ‘choice’ and it needs to be challenged. What is the “woman’s right to choose”? That’s an incomplete sentence. The woman’s right to choose what?  Finish the sentence. It’s about a woman’s right to choose to kill her unborn child at some point in time before that child is fully delivered. More on that in a moment…

Next…The word “contempt” is very apt, but certainly debatable for its selective application. And applying it to the Constitution? That’s somewhere between embarrassing and baffling, for a former adjunct law lecturer, who called the Constitution a “charter of negative liberties” in a radio interview long before he ran for president.

As president, his administration has certainly shown what some would call contempt for the Constitution and at least disregard for constitutionally protected rights such as religious liberty, free speech and due process in different mandates, most notably the HHS contraceptive mandate. So there’s irony in the president’s claim. As if saying something is so, makes it so.

Back to the “woman’s right to choose to kill her unborn child at some point in time before that child is fully delivered”, specifically the reference to “at some point.” Rep. Gwen Moore delivered quite an emotionally charged attack on the late term abortion ban under consideration on that day on the floor of the House, the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act.”

She said it would “callously and cavalierly limit access to abortion” and called it an “unconstitutional bill”, which it is not”. She heatedly said that concerning “the subject at hand, women’s right to a medically safe abortion, we once again see men taking leadership roles in invading the privacy of medical decisions of women.”

Some snips of Moore’s further comments:

“so that now we have a bill born of ignorance and disregard for medical science in every way, shape and form…with no concern for the biology, physiology, sociology of the woman”

That is just reckless pandering. It is slanderous, ungrounded and irrational. This is another case of saying what you want to believe, emphatically, turning truth on its head to perpetuate a narrative. And that narrative is what disregards medical science and the health of the woman, not to mention the child in her womb. And they definitely don’t want to mention the child in the womb.

“This bill is an abomination!” At its heart, at its foundation, is a disregard for the dignity and health of women.”

Quite the opposite. The ideology she represents disregards human dignity for all humans. The abortion movement denies or discounts the reality of post-abortion syndrome and the physical, mental, emotional, psychological and spiritual suffering women can and do go through after abortions.

Recall, this is argument over a bill to ban late term abortions. After 20 weeks, for crying out loud. And yet Moore talks about sympathy for women who find themselves with complications and in distress after 20 weeks, “due to rape or incest, findings of fetal anomalies.” Leaving aside the question of abortion being justified for any reason at any time, for now, this raises some obvious problems in reasoning. Complications and distress over pregnancy resulting from rape or incest probably occur long before 20 weeks. And “findings of fetal anomalies” patently justifies euthanasia of impaired or special needs children.

There was another emotional plea on the floor of the House this week. It was on behalf of protecting unborn children, by Rep. Virginia Foxx. She said “no one on the other side has acknowledged that those babies being murdered feel pain, nor that half of them are baby girls”. Good point, while we’re focusing on women. And, she adds, “an affront to life for some is an affront to life for every one of us.”

“One day we hope that life will cease to be evaluated on a sliding scale…Regardless of this journey, we will continue to speak for those who cannot…

“May we mourn what abortion reveals about the conscience of our nation…There’s nothing more important than protecting voiceless unborn children and their families from the travesty of abortion.”

This goes to the Senate now. Senators need to hear from the people who elected them on this legislation. More pro-choice citizens are seeing things differently now, and their representatives need to hear about that.

Dear MSNBC: Do a series on Human Life 101

I was consideirng making that a question as a header. But there’s no question.

Not when things like this still turn up in what some people still consider ‘mainstream media.’

During a recent MSNBC show on abortion, [host] Melissa Harris-Perry made a comment that will surely make people wonder whether she has any grasp on the science behind fetal development.

Harris-Perry talked about how much it costs “to have this thing turn into a human” when referring to an unborn baby.

During the rest of her talk she “accidentally” breaks a model of a fertilized egg, claims there is no science supporting the notion that unborn children are human beings, and dismissively refers to babies.

Okay, starting with basics, women have an abortion when they discover they’re pregnant and either don’t want the child or are pressured into ‘terminating it.’ And they are aborting or terminating is a fertilized egg, which makes a woman pregnant. Which means the doctor treating her has two patients. 

A charitable presumption would be that the MSNBC host is one of those people who believes that conception, making a woman pregnant with a fertilized egg, means a ‘blob of tissue’ is there, and that by removing it, you can prevent it from becoming a baby. But if that presumption is true, such archaic thinking should exclude any candidate from the position of a major television network host if that network is pursuing honorable journalism.

As the best informed consent law in the country – which stands after multiple court challenges by Planned Parenthood and its affiliates – states explicitly:

…abortion will terminate the life of a whole, separate, unique, living human being.” The law required doctors to disclose that abortion may cause women psychological harm, and that the mother’s relationship with the human being she carries is protected by the Fourteenth Amendment.

Human life is already present at conception of a fertilized egg. You can call that a person or not consider that a person. Your terminology doesn’t change the reality.  That human being either has rights or doesn’t have rights. But…isn’t that the same argument that raged over slavery?

Can we be honest about this?